Intro to CAD Modeling

CAD Modeling of NVG Recording Adaptor

Once you’ve decided on a product concept, the next step is to start to visualize it so that you can refine it and get feedback on it. CAD, which stands for Computer Aided Design, is a type of virtual modeling that can be used to create custom designs. Once a CAD model has been built, you can use it like “blueprints” to make prototypes, to make photo-realistic renderings, and to get budgetary manufacturing quotes. Early in your product development journey, these will be useful for gaining customer validation and building out your business plan.

Types of CAD Software

There are a variety of CAD modeling software, including popular programs like Solidworks, Catia, and Fusion 360. These are available at a variety of price points, some even free. Of course, each one has its own set of features and capabilities. I’ve listed some beginner programs below if you want to try your hand at modeling. It can take months if not years to become fluent in CAD modeling. You may want to seek professional help from designers or engineers like us to help get your product to market on time and avoid missing your window.


Beginner Level CAD Programs



One article could never cover the depth of all of the different CAD programs, but it’s important for you to know how file types work. Each program will have its own native file type, meaning the file only works with that specific program but is very editable. There are two very universal file types that are used for making prototypes and renders: STL and STEP.

STEP Files

A STEP file contains solid data that can be imported into most CAD programs for editing or conversion into another file type. Unlike the native file types from some CAD programs, STEP files don’t retain any design history, and act more as “dumb” solids. These file types are great for sending to design partners, prototyping companies, and manufacturers.

STL Files

The STL file contains surface data composed of tiny triangles and is most commonly associated with 3D printing. The STL is also unitless, meaning the file doesn’t know whether it’s 10 inches long or 10 miles long. Since the files are defined by a given number of triangles, it’s important to make sure that you create STLs of the appropriate size. Too small, and your features may not resolve properly. Too large, and the file may be harder to transfer and take forever to load. STL files are generally larger in size than other file types. These files are great for loading directly into 3D printing software.

Moving Forward

Being able to create CAD models is certainly a critical aspect of product development.  However, learning how to use CAD software and use it well can take months to years of training. Here at Touchstone 3D, we’re equipped and ready to handle your CAD modeling so that you can focus on the prototypes and renders you need. In our next article, we’ll talk about the critical fundraising assets you can acquire with your CAD models: proof of concept models, photo-realistic renderings, and budgetary manufacturing quotes.